On 20th January, 2017, M/S Vina with crew sailed out on a scientific expedition to Scapa Flow, Scotland, to survey the remains of the German fleet that was scuttled there just after World War I. The ship M/S Vina, equipment and crew were arranged by the management of JD-Contractor A/S and the Sea War Museum Jutland, Denmark, for Dr. Innes McCartney’s research on Scapa Flow. Dr. McCartney is a British archaeologist interested in 20th century shipwreck archaeology. Currently he is affiliated with Bournemouth University.
The planned survey area, as set out by Dr. Innes McCartney, included approx. 15 wrecks and traces of salvaged wrecks spread over a large area of the sea floor. The wrecks were to be documented using a multibeam sonar. On some wrecks, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) was deployed to collect detailed data of a specific site or area. We were not allowed to deploy the ROV on certain wrecks amongst which the HMS Royal Oak, HMS Vanguard, SS Prudentia and the HSM Hampshire.
Accompanying the expedition was Prof. David Gregory from the National Museum of Denmark who collected information on the decomposition of the Scapa Flow wrecks compared to similar wrecks located in the North Sea. The writer and grandson of Earl J.R. Jellicoe, who commanded the Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland, Nicholas Jellicoe, accompanied the expedition to collect information for his book on the British naval base in Scapa Flow. The writer and journalist Knud Jacobsen participated in the expedition to write about the work on board the vessel on behalf of the Sea War Museum Jutland and the Danish Press. A film crew of two men accompanied Dr. McCartney for a few days to collect material for a book and TV production that will be published in time for the 100th anniversary of the scuttling of the German fleet.
We, as the two maritime archaeology students from the University of Southern Denmark, were invited by Gert Normann Andersen to participate. Gert Norman Andersen is the CEO of JD-Contractor A/S and the man behind the Sea War Museum in Thyborøn; Denmark. He was coordinator of the expedition. The expedition presented us with the opportunity to experience the application of a multibeam sonar and a ROV up close. We were able to learn about both systems in the field and we were even allowed to handle the equipment.
On Friday the 20th of January, all members of the expedition were expected to arrive on board the vessel M/S Vina. The ship left Thyborøn Harbour in the evening after dinner. We arrived Sunday morning in Scapa Flow where the first wrecks were immediately surveyed with the multibeam sonar. The survey work would be carried out in a 24 hour operation. The ship was in constant motion and the crewmembers worked on a rotating schedule. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were served on a strict schedule. We, as students, had the incredible opportunity to experience the use of the multibeam sonar and the ROV up close. We were allowed to operate the ROV which gave us a good impression of the quality of the data one can collect and on the general use of such a tool in this type of environment. Briefly explained, a ROV is a mobile device used under water which can be operated remotely by a crew aboard the vessel. It is a highly manoeuvrable, multifunctional vehicle equipped to work in deep waters and rough weather. The ROV had three video cameras, lights and an arm which were used to observe and survey several wrecks and sites.
In short, a multibeam sonar is a device which is used to map acoustically a clear image of the sea floor. It is mounted on the bottom of the hull and it is operated from a work station set up on the bridge. The device emits sound and measures the water depth based on the time it takes for the sound to bounce back off the seabed. The sound is emitted in a fan shaped beam which can be manipulated and changed to fit the situation. It is a complex system capable of a multitude of tasks. Using this device a clear and detailed map was created of the seafloor.
As part of the research of Dr. Innes McCartney, the expedition included survey of the Revenge-class battleship HMS Royal Oak. The battleship was anchored at Scapa Flow when she was destroyed by torpedos by the German submarine U-47 in October 1939. The fact that an archaeological survey of the site has not been permitted for several decades made this an incredible opportunity. During the survey of the wreck a new and relative unfamiliar method was used to gather data. The wreck rests nearly upside down at a depth of 30 m. with the bottom of her hull at a depth of almost 5 m. The hull of the ship is angled is such a way that it could block the soundwaves emitted by the mutlibeam sonar. The beam of the device was set at a steep angle to try to reach underneath the overhanging hull and gather data of, for example, the superstructure, the guns and gun turrets.
As part of a larger group, we were able to go on land twice. A group toured the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum. This was followed by a visit to the Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery. The cemetery contains graves from both World Wars. The majority of the graves are of crewmember lost from HMS Hampshire, Vanguard, Narborough and Opal. Twenty-six graves belong to men from HMS Royal Oak of which eight are unidentified. The cemetery also contains graves of sailors of the German navy. The second time we went on land was as part of a group that visited several prehistoric and modern sites such as the Neolithic settlement Skara Brae, the Standing Stones, the Brochs of Eynhallow Sound and the Italian Chapel.
Originally, the expedition was planned from the 20th January – 6th February. The M/S Vina crew was able to survey all the selected areas without much delay partly due to the good weather and little to no problems with equipment. The bright sun and clear skies made it a joy to sail around Scapa Flow.
A storm on the North Sea delayed the return trip with two days. Despite the fact that the ship stayed within the protected bays of Scapa Flow, we encountered heavy waves in the aftermath of the storm. We arrived back in Thyborøn Harbour Friday 3rd February, three days ahead of schedule. Gert Normann offered us a tour of the Sea War Museum and its incredible collection before we travelled back to Esbjerg.
Being part of the expedition to Scapa Flow was an amazing experience. We were able to learn and work with these incredible survey methods. Thank you to Gert Norman, Dr. Innes McCartney, Prof. David Gregory, Nicholas Jellicoe and the rest of the crew for the incredible opportunity and experience.
Lesley Dalgleish & Alice Neet
The photos in this blog courtesy of Knud Jacobsen.